Adventure Travel

Tashirojima, Japan: A Cat Lover’s Dream

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cat island

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Tashirojima, Japan: A Cat Lover’s Dream

In certain parts of the world, animals widely outnumber their human neighbors. Some areas of New Zealand and Australia have more kangaroos and sheep than humans. Brazil forbids visits to Ilha da Queimada Grande due to it’s population of 4,000 endangered, venomous vipers. Bunny lovers can visit Okunoshima (Bunny Island), where bunnies outnumber humans, and just a one-hour flight away, visitors can spend time in Tashirojima, affectionately known as “Cat Island.”

What is Cat Island?

Tashirojima, a small island off the coast of Japan, is home to a steadily dwindling population of 100 people and more than double that number of cats. The island enjoys visitors not only for the live cats, but also the cat statues created by Manga artist, Shotaro Ishinomori. In fact, local maps may also refer to the island as “Manga Island.”

History of Cat Island

From the 17th-19th centuries, Tashirojima participated in the silk trade and many island inhabitants bred silkworms for this purpose. To keep mice away from silkworms, farmers kept cats nearby. Local belief held that feeding and protecting cats brought good luck, and so began the dominance of the cat population. Locals credit cats for the island’s survival during the 2011 tsunami.

cat island

Image: Lucky Pony

Activities on Cat Island

There are no-shortage of cat-related activities and sites to indulge in on Cat Island. Throughout the island you’ll find more than fifty cat shrines and monuments. Local legend says the first cat shrine was built by a local fisherman after his beloved feline friend was killed by a rock. Today, most cat shrines and cat monuments (rocks piled in the shape of a cat) are concentrated on the Southern tip of the island. Unsurprisingly, you won’t find dogs on Cat Island. An unspoken rule forbids the presence of the cat’s four-legged nemesis. There are also numerous cat-shaped buildings to enjoy.

As for uncatty things to do, you can visit the Ishinomori Manga Museum, where you can view items and inspiration from his various manga series including Kamen Rider and Cyborg 009. Unfortunately, the island doesn’t have many restaurants, cafes or shops due to the tsunami. Be prepared to bring your own food and snacks.

The Future of Cat Island

If you want to visit Cat Island, you should do it soon. The island has been named a “terminal village,” which means more than half of the island’s residents are 65 years or older. The island’s elementary school closed in the 1980s. The majority of the town’s elderly population works in the fishing or hospitality industries.

For those who can’t visit the island, you can indulge in one of the many films starring island cats. Nyanko The Movie is a four-series film, based on the exploits of Jack, a cat on Tashirojima. The BBC’s documentary Pets—Wild at Heart, explores the behavior and idiosyncrasies of cats on the island.

If the idea of Cat Island excites you, there’s good news for you. Japan has at least eleven other “Cat Islands” and cities including Enoshima, Kadarshima and Aoshima.

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